Vatican says Muslims more numerous than Catholics

VATICAN CITY Mon Mar 31, 2008 12:26pm BST

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VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - The number of Muslims has overtaken the number of Roman Catholics in the world, a Vatican official said on Sunday.

Monsignor Vittorio Formenti, who compiled the Vatican's newly-released 2008 yearbook, said Muslims made up 19.2 percent of the world's population and Catholics 17.4 percent.

"For the first time in history we are no longer at the top: the Muslims have overtaken us," Formenti told Vatican newspaper L'Osservatore Romano in an interview, saying the data referred to 2006.

He said that if all Christian groups were considered, including Orthodox churches, Anglicans and Protestants, then Christians made up 33 percent of the world's population -- or about 2 billion people.

The Vatican recently put the number of Catholics in the world at 1.13 billion people. It did not provide a figure for Muslims, generally estimated at around 1.3 billion.

The data on religious groups was generally known from other statistical sources but it was significant that the Vatican chose to draw attention to the numbers and what it sees as the causes behind them.

Formenti said that while the number of Catholics as a proportion of the world's population was fairly stable, the percentage of Muslims was growing because of higher birth rates.

He said the data on Muslim populations had been compiled by individual countries and then released by the United Nations, adding the Vatican could only vouch for its own statistics.

(Reporting by Silvia Aloisi; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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